Thursday, August 7, 2014

Persistence Part 2

So let's go back to the practicing scenario.  If a student starts young--say, 3 or 4 years old--the decision to play an instrument comes from the parents.  Yes, a child may have expressed an interest in music but most certainly not in the hours and hours of practicing it will take to become proficient.  It is no wonder that this results in tantrums.  In the child's mind, this is not what he signed up for.

Where's the motivation?

There's no one answer to this.  Just like how there's no one answer for why you didn't exercise on that one day.  Maybe you didn't feel like it.  Maybe you were just plain ol' tired.  Maybe you were sore from the previous day's workout.  Maybe all three of these things.

Difficult practicing work may not be a top priority for a student so it's important to understand what does motivate the child.  Up until the teenage years, the desire to please is a very strong motivator.  If the child is receiving constant positive feedback and support from his parents the hard work begins to seem like more worth the struggle.

It takes awhile before a child is mature enough to understand the passage of time.  To him, the lesson could have just as easily been last month as last week.  This means the child most certainly does not understand the reason why he has to practice now so that way when he's 85 he'll be really really good at playing. Smaller goals also help with the concept of time.  Giving the student more immediate goals such as having three practices without tears (and hopefully a smile!) makes the challenges seem more tangible.

These are ideas but what persistence boils down to in the early days of lessons is persistence from the parents.  This is a tall order because persistence is not a natural thing.  The natural thing is to want to give up as soon as we are met with resistance.  Remember the gym?  If we, as adult, have the ability to give up on exercise so easily--even while knowing that it is necessary--then only imagine the mental struggle a child must be going through.

The key is not to become overwhelmed.  Accomplishing small tasks eventually adds up to a larger whole.  Don't think about how your child is never going to get a music scholarship with all these tantrums.  Focus on this week, this day, this moment.      

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Persistence Part 1

I want to explore the concept of persistence.  Persistence is something that I get asked about a lot, from parents in particular.  It's a perfectly reasonable question on the surface.  How do I keep my child motivated?

It's such a simple question that I think people expect a simple answer in response.  Especially if even the mention of the very word "practice" has the ability to create cataclysmic, world-ending tantrums.  It's natural at such moments to question your own sanity.  Why force to happen that which does not want to be forced?

And herein lies the issue with that sort of thinking: it implies that persistence is something that should come easily.  But it doesn't.  Not for anyone.

To put this into perspective for the non-musicians... let's talk about the gym.  The gym, I feel, is the perfect adult example.  We age.  It happens.  And as we age life gets in the way.  We get busier and our bodies maybe don't work exactly the way they did at 18.

We all want to stay healthy.  And most of us don't want to gain lots of extra weight.  On paper, we should all have the highest level of motivation to persistently go and work out.  But do we?


Some people love to work out.  The working out is its own reward.  But I would say the majority of the average population doesn't feel this same way.  I think most people have certain activities that they enjoy.  For example, going on hikes or playing tennis.  I also think that most people enjoy the results of being active.  The motivation lies in feeling better or even looking better.

And yet is this enough to make you unfailingly go to the gym every day?

Again, maybe.

I think most people go through ups and downs.  There will be periods where working up the motivation to go to the gym is easy and there will be times--maybe during the winter when it's cold and rainy--when wild horses couldn't drag you there.

I want to reiterate that this is for an activity that should have the highest number of motivational factors for most adults.

So what keeps someone going?  More on that in part two...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Touch vs. Sight

When it comes to learning an instrument, the power of touch cannot be emphasized enough.  Consider how fast and sensitive touch is compared to another sense like sight.  If you touch a hot stove by accident you instantly pull away.  Your hand moves so fast that your skin does not even have time to burn.

By comparison, sight is much slower.  Has someone ever thrown something in your direction (a ball, car keys, etc...) and you are watching it fly through the air toward you yet you still don't react in time to catch the object?

A trademark of the Suzuki Method is that students learn to play without sheet music at first.  This is primarily to allow for the ear to develop.  But it's also to allow that sense of touch to mature.  Despite the sensitivity of touch (or perhaps because of?), it is the one sense that can easily get cancelled out by all the others.  As soon as the other senses are engaged, touch usually takes a back seat.

For example, as you read this blog, are you thinking about the feel of the chair you're sitting on or what your feet feel at this exact moment?

Playing an instrument well is not about having posture that looks right.  It has to feel right.  It has to feel natural, like the instrument has become an extension of the body and not some foreign object.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

9 Tips for Observing Your Young Musician

There are three people involved in the education of a young musician: the teacher, parent and child. The child’s role of learning how to play an instrument is very clear. The teacher is there to serve as a mentor and guide as the child begins his or her musical journey.

The role of the parent is more complex, especially if the parent does not know how to play the musical instrument. Of the three people involved, the parent has the power to create the most change. It is also the most difficult of the three roles, as the parent must assume the role of both student and teacher.

In order to have a young child succeed at a complicated task, a parent must completely internalize the concept that he or she is the at-home teacher. What's more, the child will be having lessons with his or her at-home teacher more often than lessons with a private instructor. Again, heady stuff if the parent does not know how to play.

You can find this booklet on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and most other major e-book retailers.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Role of the Suzuki Teacher

While the parent may be the expert when it comes to her child, the teacher is the expert when it comes to the instrument being learned.  If the Suzuki triangle is going to function, both of these experts must come to middle ground in order to allow the student to progress.

The the teacher is there to serve as a mentor and guide.  While the student has just started his musical journey, the teacher has been on the journey for some time.  Think of it like traveling to a new city vs. having visited a place many times.

The main job of the teacher is to make the lesson approachable.  Learning an instrument is difficult.  Therefore a teacher must take her collective knowledge to break down a complex task into manageable steps.  This requires experience and it requires communication.

The teacher's role is also to provide a model for how the at-home lesson should unfold.  In most cases, the parent as well as the child lack musical experience.  It is the teacher's job to give them structure so that effective learning may take place at home.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Role of the Suzuki Student

The role of the Suzuki student is challenging because more often than not the student does not realize he even has a role.  Children, especially young children, are aware that they have private lessons and that they must practice.  Anything beyond that is not part of how they think.

Whether or not a child is aware of his role, he does have one.  It is the job of the student to work with the parent and the teacher.  A good but extreme example is if the teacher helps the child to play a note.  The child is shown where a finger must be placed and how to pull the bow across the string.  The child can be shown but eventually he just has to do it.  It is not the job of the parent or the teacher to pull the bow across the string for the child.  The student must be willing to contribute to this learning process.

As I said, this is an extreme example and the student's contributions to the lesson environment or highly dependent on age.  A four-year-old does not have the same set of expectations as an eight-year-old.  The point being that the student understand that there are expectations.

Expectations are not the same thing as frustrations.  All students become frustrated with their studies.  It is a natural part of the learning process.  Therefore it is crucial for a student to understand that he is expected to keep up with his musical studies no matter what.  The moment that belief is questioned, the parent, teacher, student triangle breaks down.